BMC’s Taylor Phinney attacked 33 km from the finish of Stage Five on the ninth Amgen Tour of California, and the combined might of the peloton couldn’t catch the flying American.
The 23-year-old American surprised everyone, attacking just over the crest of the only categorized climb of the day, riding at an incredible pace on an incredibly hot—104 degrees—day. Despite the rest of the peloton cooperating to chase him down, Phinney stayed away to win the stage.
When asked by the NBCSN interviewer why he had attacked so early, Phinney replied, “Stupidity maybe—? I don’t know.
“Sometimes you just have a voice inside you that says ‘Go’ and I know I can go downhill a lot faster than almost everybody else—mainly because I weigh a lot more than everybody else—so, I survived that climb and something inside me said ‘Go for it.’
“I got to the bottom with a bit of a gap and I was kind of like, ‘Well, I’m committed now so I’m not going to look back—I’m just going to go.’
“I kept getting time splits from the moto and everything was looking good. It kept getting more and more painful as I went on, but I knew that if I made it, it would be worth it and it definitely was. This is the best way to win, to win like that, but it is also the most painful, and I kind of feel like passing out now.”
Phinney might have been exhausted, but he had the sense of showmanship to take a bow to the screaming crowd before he crossed the finish line.
He told the interviewer that until that moment he wasn’t sure the race was his.
“You never have that 100 percent confidence that you have it but I knew with five K to go I had like, 30 seconds—that road along the coast took a long time, I can tell you that much.
“I just went for it, and as soon as I got close to the finish line, feeling the energy of the crowd, I put my hands up. That’s what we live for—the magic of that moment. That’s just a very special feeling.
It’s huge to be able to win at home, in front of a home crowd. It’s always special to win, but winning like that—it just seems like it’s the best way.”
Taylor Phinney of BMC Racing Team bows to the screaming crowd as he crosses the line to win Stage Five of the 2014 Amgen Tour of California. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan announced from the start that he wanted this stage. The 24-year-old Slovakian champ has won ten stages in the past two Tours of California, and this ear hadn’t a single win—a situation he planned to change Thursday.
Stage Five was perfect for the powerful Slovak—he could use the Cat One climb to drop the pure sprinters and then rest on the high-speed decent, then outsprint the climbers on the run-in to the finish. There were a couple small climbs near the finish, but for Sagan, these wouldn’t be a problem.
The plan was to ride hard up to the climb to tire the sprinters, ride a little less hard up the climb to save some power in the legs, and drive hard through the final 30 km.
The first part of his plan worked, but he didn’t count on BMC’s young American Taylor Phinney attacking right over the crest and riding away from the peloton. Phinney, 24, is a demon time trialer, and at 17 km he had a 25-second gap on the bunch.
It took a few minutes for the peloton to realize that Phinney intended to insist with his attack. When they did, Cannondale started the chase, riding for Sagan; Orica-GreenEdge, riding for their sprinter Matt Goss, joined in a few kilometers later. Even so, Phinney stretched his gap to 35 seconds with ten km to go and 40 at 6.7—the chasers with all their coordinated power couldn’t catch the flying Phinney.
The best efforts of two powerful teams came to naught. Though he slowed in the final five K and the peloton kept its speed, Taylor Phinney cruised across the finish line 12 seconds ahead of the peloton to win his seventh stage as a ProTour rider.
The General Classification did not change with Phinney’s win. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retains the leader’s yellow jersey and 28 seconds over Garmin-Sharp’s Rohan Dennis.
This pair could quite possibly settle their GC battle in Stage Six.
Stage Six is not considered the Queen Stage—Stage Three earned that honor—but it will almost certainly be the decisive stage.
Stage 6, 152 km, features another summit finish, this time atop the aptly named Hors Categorie Mt. High, but it also includes the Cat 3 climb out of Bouquet canyon and the Cat 4 climbs up Spunky Canyon and Mt. Emma. On top of that, the final 40 km are a single, unrelenting incline.
Rohan Dennis has to know that Sky will push the pace as high as possible over all the early climbs and all the way up the final climb until Wiggins is alone and every other rider in the race is too exhausted to stay with him. Dennis also needs to know that while Wiggins is a tremendously powerful climber, he doesn’t like short, sharp attacks.
Possibly the Garmin rider’s only chance will be to hang on to Wiggins until the final several hundred meters, then go for a final, suicidal attack, an all-or-nothing effort to try to gain a gap. Even so, his chances of actually cracking the Sky rider seem … well, it doesn’t seem that there is a chance.